Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Fall Into Food -- The Challenges of Changing Season for Resident Ducks and Geese

(Photos -- 1-- Brad, the domestic Rouen duck at Harlem Meer who has his work cut out for him in more ways than one over the ensuing days and months. 2-- Brad, watching over his charges,  Wiggly and Honker.) 

Domestic Animals Abandoned to Semi-Wild Environments

Apparently, the phenomenon of domestic ducks abandoned in public parks is not unique to Harlem Meer.

Today, there is this article attempting to bring attention to the special problems domestic waterfowl face when dropped off in alien and challenging environments:

Recently, three (new) domestic ducks showed up at the Boat Lake in Central Park.

While I have not personally seen the ducks, I was told a couple of weeks ago by birders in Central Park that a man had claimed to "rescue"  a couple or rabbits and three domestic ducks from slaughter and released the animals around the Rambles in CP.

Today, part of this information was seemingly confirmed in a conversation with Lianna who  monitors the birds at the Boat Lake in Central Park.

Lianna described what sounds like three domestic ducks that she has been seeing on the Boat Lake for the past week or so.

"They are larger than the mallards, reddish brown in color and don't have the stripes of the mallards." Lianna told me.  "The three ducks are always together and I don't think they can fly." she added.

While it is good that the ducks have each other to try and survive as a flock, they are vulnerable to possible dog attacks and other hazards in what is to them, a new and unknown environment.

I advised Lianna to keep a special eye out for the domestic ducks and to aid them in obtaining food.

"Their chances of survival are pretty good depending on how quickly they can adapt to the changes and threats in the location and provided the lake doesn't entirely freeze over in winter." I told Lianna.

Survivability for the rabbits reportedly dropped off in the Rambles is far less likely.

Lacking the ability to escape to water, the rabbits are far more vulnerable to predation from either hawks or dogs. 

Unfortunately, people don't consider these dangers when dropping off domestic animals in public parks.

Brad -- The Exception to the Rule

That Brad, (the domestic Rouen duck left at Harlem Meer at least 4 or 5 years ago) has survived so long in a semi-wild environment is testimony not to the usual, but rather the exception to the rule. 

Brad is both amazingly lucky and more importantly, exceptionally smart, calculating and wary.

Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for Wiggly and Honker, the other two domestic ducks abandoned to the Meer over the past year and currently flocking with Brad.  

As noted previously, I worry over those two.  

Neither Honker nor Wiggly seem to realize as acutely as Brad, the ever present dangers and uncertainty of life in the "wild," (though Brad makes every effort to teach them).  
Last night, Wiggly was back in the fold and Brad watched over her like a hawk, never taking his eyes off her.

Wiggly was none too pleased with all the new focus and surveillance and quacked loudly in seeming protest.  

For a duck who never opened her mouth for nearly ten months, Wiggly has certainly made up for lost time.

She and Brad were once again engaged in highly animated conversation with Honker mostly staying out of the fray and nibbling sunflower seeds from the ground.

I am not sure what Brad has to do to get through to Wiggly the importance of constant vigilance, unity and preparation for the future. 

With her recent rise in status and confidence, (as well as the ease of spring and summer),  Wiggly apparently feels a sense of greater independence.  But, that can be dangerous for flock birds and especially domestic birds incapable of flight should real threat emerge.  

Brad understands these things all too well.  But, Wiggly still has a great deal to learn if she is to survive over the next year and beyond.    The fact is, Wiggly is a kind of airhead.

Fortunately for her, Brad is the exact opposite.

I don't believe there is ever a minute, (be it summer, spring, night or day) that Brad lets his guard down, takes unnecessary chances or ceases to consider the challenges of the days and months ahead.

The fact is, Brad is always plotting ahead.

And more evidence to that was clearly visible last night.
Fall into Food

Though the weather in New York City remains mostly warm and sticky, the seasons have already changed in the heads of Brad and billions of other birds.

This recent article describes bird migrations this time of year and the needs for "calorie loading" for the stresses of long flight:

However, it is not just migratory birds who need to load up on nutrition during the fall, but resident birds as well.  

This is in order to build up fat reserves to get them through the lean times of winter when food is less plentiful and the rigors of brutal temperatures taxing on the body.

It is common in winter to see ducks and geese hunkered down on ice with nary a blade of grass in sight.  In order to survive, they need to have nutritional reserves for those times they may not eat for days.

Already many of the mallards and geese are reacting and preparing for the changes in season, none more so than Brad.

Throughout the spring and summer, Brad and the other ducks have been welcoming, but not needy of treats.  Though Brad is accustomed to taking sunflower seeds from my hand, he did this sparingly over the warm months.  Additionally, knowing the bounty of food available to the ducks over the spring and summer, I did not go to Harlem Meer everyday. 

However, over the past week, things have dramatically changed.

As if the season suddenly changed in his head, Brad is the first bird to waddle to me when I arrive at the Meer with the others following close behind.  Moreover, fully knowing he can get far more food by directly eating from my hand, Brad wastes no time in reaching up to me beseeching treat.

Though I know he is not starving, I oblige Brad for all the obvious reasons.   It is important that he stay strong and healthy in order to help the other two domestic ducks survive. Brad knows he has to "calorie load" now, just as the mallards and geese do.

Though the temperatures have remained warm and summer-like in New York City, I have experienced the past few nights to be reminiscent of winter with a cluster of "famished" mallards scrambling at my feet and one domestic duck greedily swooping treats from my hand.

This has nothing to do with Brad's or the mallards "attachment" to me personally or even that they are particularly hungry right now.  

Rather, it  has everything to do with the change in season and the birds' awareness of how they have to prepare now for the stresses of winter soon to come.

"Fall into food" is the overriding priority now. Get it while and when they can.

That is not just true for the migratory birds, but every bit as much (if not more so) for the resident ducks, geese and others who have to tough it out in a hostile environment over the winter.   -- PCA


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